The State of North Carolina has dropped a $300,000 fine that it levied against the United Animal Coalition (UAC), the much-maligned organization that ran the Guilford County Animal Shelter until mid-August 2015.
Last November, the Veterinary Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (DOA) & Consumer Services slammed the UAC with the historic fine of $300,000 in civil penalties for animal abuse and neglect. That happened about four months after the UAC had its license revoked for actions at the animal shelters in Guilford County and Davidson County.
Jennifer Kendrick, public information officer for the DOA, said the department has chosen to rescind the fine.
“The UAC has disbanded and reallocated its funds to the appropriate organizations, so we have dropped the penalties,” Kendrick said.
Given the opaque nature of the UAC’s financial situation, it’s unclear if the organization could have paid the money if the state hadn’t dropped the fines. Until a few months ago, the UAC was trying to collect money that it said Guilford County owed it for services provided in the two weeks before the scandal broke. They claimed they needed that money in order to help meet the UAC’s financial obligations.
The $300,000 fine – by far the largest penalty issued for animal neglect and cruelty in the history of the State of North Carolina – was levied against the nonprofit coalition after investigators with the department’s Veterinary Division’s Animal Welfare Section found a total of more than 100 counts of animal neglect and cruelty at the shelters in Guilford County and Davidson County while the UAC operated them. The penalties for the UAC’s activities at the Guilford County shelter amounted to $290,000, while the group’s actions at the Davidson County Animal Shelter accounted for $10,000.
The $300,000 fine was nearly 50 times higher than the previous largest fine for shelter misconduct.
Kendrick said the sky-high nature of the penalties levied against the UAC was a reflection of the widespread and wholesale problems that state investigators discovered.
“The fines were so high because the violations were so bad,” Kendrick said.
She added that the DOA’s goal in fining such a large amount was never for the state to get money but instead was to insure a corrective course of action was followed by the UAC including a proper dispensation of the nonprofit’s assets.
“We do not fine animal shelters very often because we want the money to go to the animals,” she said.
When asked if one purpose of the huge fine was to assure that the UAC closed its doors for good, Kendrick said that wasn’t the goal but she added that the state has no qualms whatsoever with UAC going away.
“I don’t think our goal was to drive them out of business, but we were very satisfied with the decision of the UAC to disband,” Kendrick said.
Kendrick said her department has been attempting to aid Guilford County in its transition to a county-run shelter.
“We’re still working in Guilford County,” she said. “We’re still in constant contact.”
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said this week that the county is now through with its deliberations with the UAC and that, as it relates to the state’s fines against the UAC, Guilford County never really played a role.
“I have not had any discussions about the penalties,” Payne said, adding that that was a matter between the state’s Agriculture Department and the UAC.
The county’s dealings with the UAC, Payne said, have involved getting money that the UAC initially handed over to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of the Triad. That money, about $264,000, was in Susie’s Fund – a fund meant to help pay for medical care for animals at the Guilford County Animal Shelter – as well in a fund donated to help Guilford County construct a new animal shelter.
Between the two shelters under UAC management, the state found cruelty and neglect that included animals with broken backs, protruding eyeballs and other conditions that were left untreated for days while the animals weren’t tended to and were not given pain medication.
In the wake of the scandal, former Guilford County Animal Shelter Director Marsha Williams, who also ran the shelter in Davidson County, has been charged with felony animal cruelty in Davidson County. Two other women who worked at both shelters were also charged with animal cruelty in Davidson County. However, Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson elected not to prosecute for activities at the Guilford County Animal Shelter.
Williams’ trial in Davidson County is not expected to take place until 2017.
Last fall when the state fines against the UAC were levied, Brian Long, the public affairs director for the DOA, said that the department wanted the fines to reflect the nature of the cases that were found at the two shelters.
At the time the fines were issued, the UAC had 60 days to either pay or file a written petition contesting the fines. However, as the talks drew out until now, that group has gotten monthly extensions.
Long said at the time the fines were issued that the state wasn’t interested in going after funds that were held by the UAC for various nonprofits, such as Susie’s Fund, the Guilford County Animal Shelter Building Fund and an Unchained Guilford Fund – money for a group that helps low-income households fence their yard for their pets, allowing them to be off a chain.
Before the $300,000 fine was levied against the UAC, the single largest fine the Animal Welfare Section had assessed was for $6,500, issued in November 2013 to the Columbus County Animal Shelter. That penalty was for euthanizing 13 dogs before waiting the mandatory 72-hours after the animal is brought in. In that case, the Columbus County shelter reached a consent agreement in which it agreed to take corrective action and pay a civil penalty of $4,000.